One year ago . . .
As a passionate agvocate, I attended the 2012 AgChat conference (agricultural social media conference) in Kansas City. During the conference I truly was inspired by some of the top ag social media gurus. At the end of the conference, I told myself and others, “I want to blog!” But then reality hit. Can a person blog with absolutely no background in journalism or communications? Well, with a bit of blind faith, mixed with a positive attitude and many questions asked, I started my blog – Minnesota Farm Living. It’s been fun, rewarding and I have not looked back. I can now call myself a blogger and I don’t get that weird feeling (like can I really say it?)
Here is my top 5 things I learned this past year about blogging:
1. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of time. I have heard and read that you should be able to write a blog in about an hour. Not even close for me. Granted, it probably would be easier and faster if I was an experienced writer, but it takes me a long time to write a blog. A lot of my time is spent thinking about better and more interesting ways to present the blogging material. Ideally, I split my blogging over a few days, which usually results in a better written blog.
The more difficult aspects about blogging for me are making sure my grammar is proper, selecting good blog topics and writing an appropriate and catchy blog title. In the past year, I have realized that blog titles are extremely important. Blog titles are all readers have as their first impression of a blog and it does determine whether they click to read or pass over it. And all bloggers want their blogs to be read!
2. Practice makes perfect. The more you write, the better you write. In fact, I cringe a little when I read some of my first blog posts. I also learned this past year that you can’t proofread your blog enough. In fact, if you think it’s ready to publish, read it again and then read it one more time.
When I proofread my blog I am looking for grammar and spelling errors and also ways to write more clearly and concisely. There are times I will delete whole segments because it just didn’t add value to my blog.
Another item I have started to learn about over the past year is SEO – search engine optimization. SEO is a strategy that makes it easier for search engines to find your blog so it can display it on the search engine results page. Your ultimate goal is for your blog to be one of the top results of the search. One SEO strategy is to write good blog titles that include keywords and use those same keywords frequently in your blog. I also make sure my pictures’ file names are given a relevant name, in addition to a picture caption in the blog itself.
3. Content quality is king. I am continually learning and reading about what makes a blog successful and the one recurrent theme is to write quality content. Quality content provides value, such as giving information people may find useful or presenting content with a different viewpoint. I also include pictures in my blogs because they grab my readers’ attention. Many times pictures can add more to my blog’s content than words.
In addition to quality content, what values do I want to convey through my blog? Top on my list? Honesty, listening to others’ perspectives and to be open, even if it means embarrassing myself or feeling uncomfortable. Readers really do appreciate openness and candor. It helps make agriculture and farmers real in their eyes.
Most of my blog posts are about farming, family and living in rural Minnesota. Although, occasionally, I will write about something entirely different. And there is nothing wrong with that – readers appreciate the variety. And besides, it’s fun!
4. Making connections – that’s why they call it social media! Make connections with people within and outside your circle of interests. One of the challenges of agvocating is trying to reach people outside the “choir” (although reaching the choir is important too due to ag’s diversity). Recently, I have found some ways to start reaching people outside my circle. One way is to read other people’s blogs that may share non-ag interests you have. Examples of other interests may include food, fitness, nutrition or parental issues. Connections are made by reading and commenting on other blogs. And when people comment on your blog, be sure to respond back. Responding to comments is one of my favorite parts about blogging!
Another suggestion for new bloggers is to find a seasoned blogger who is willing to mentor you. I did have a mentor and she gave me great advice, as well as shared some of my blogs on her website.
5. Letting others know about your blog. One of the challenges in the first year of blogging is how to let others know that you have a blog post. Initially, I started posting my blog post on my facebook page. But as time went on, I realized there are many other avenues for publicizing my posts. In addition to Facebook, I now post to LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter (make sure you use hashtags and tweet multiple times at different times of the day or week), Google+, pertinent related facebook pages, and Linky Parties (or blog hops).
Linky parties are blogs where the “host” allows bloggers to post their blog links for others to access. Hence the name, “linky party”. The sole purpose of linky parties is to help bloggers make connections with each other. Just make sure you read and follow the rules of the party. I like linky parties because it’s a good way to connect with people outside the “choir”.
It’s been a great first year! I have been surprised who is reading my blogs, where my blogs have been posted and the people I have connected with over this past year. I will continue to read and listen and learn and blog. Here’s to another year of blogging!